In Praise of Thor
I’ve been thinking a lot about Thor lately. In the Himiskviða and, I believe the Voluspa, He is given the epithet Vèurr, which means “Hallower,” i.e. One who hallows, One who makes something holy. A variant of this epithet, with roughly the same meaning is Víurðr (Defender of the shrine).Thor is also the Defender (or by some translations, Keeper or Protector – all are correct) of Midgard. He girds our world against destruction and dissolution. I’ve been pondering these particular heiti since someone asked me a couple of weeks ago, which of our Gods I would invoke should I ever need to perform an exorcism. Since then, I’ve also been working prayers to Thor specifically calling upon Him as Vèurr into our near-nightly prayer regimen. It’s been enlightening.
I will speak first to the way my sensorium interprets His presence when He is called thusly. When He comes there is a force, a fullness, a weight, a Power, a Presence. At the same time, if there was pollution and/or miasma present, it dissipates and the room visually lightens (it seems to grow cleaner and above all else brighter and sharper). In tandem with this, His presence is a comfort and while there is an enormity and sometimes even a ferocity to it, that is never – that I have yet encountered—directed toward us, but toward that which threatens, toward malignancy and pollution. Like all our Gods, His Presence carries with it its own rhythm and vibrancy too and a in Thor’s case, a sense of deep groundedness.
Thor has a number of heiti, and I’m sure that modern devotees have added even more to the traditional list. When Thor comes as Vèurr though, what specifically does that mean? I mentioned in my creation article part 2 that epithets are important. They are lenses through which the Gods reveal something of Themselves, lenses through which They may act in our lives and in the world. To use a particular epithet is to petition the Deity in question to reveal Him or Herself in a particular way, to petition Them to act by means of a particular role – to come wielding this type of power and not that type (to come as one Who hallows for instance with all that may entail, and not as God of fertility or storm God or God of X.). It’s never meant to limit a Deity – we do not have that power nor should we seek it – but it allows us a cognitive lens by which we are better able to connect devotionally, to seek understanding, and to engage in effective veneration.
What does it mean for something to be holy? Our modern English word comes from the Old English word halig– to be whole. It’s also related to the Old norse heilagr (1). This word has a rich meaning not only of holy, but of ‘invulnerable, belonging or destined for the Gods (and therefore treated with proper reverence), sacred (2). So for our ancestors, holiness was directly connected to health, well-being, good luck, and integrity (in the sense of wholeness, proper integrity of a being or thing) (3).
To be holy is to be, again according to its etymology, godly (4). What does this mean? I interpret this as a call to reify and align ourselves with the divine order of creation. To be holy is about integrity of the spirit, heart, and mind, and in this context, that integrity means being properly aligned with the architecture the Gods have created, an architecture of which we are a part. To be “godly” for us as human beings (who have been carefully crafted by our Gods and imbued with certain inherent gifts that enable us to move in, experience, and effect the world), is to behave in a way that reflects our connection to the Gods, to reflect to the best of our ability, the connection via Their creation of us and the gifts given therein. Moreover, and more importantly: the Gods created the scaffolding of creation. They set it in order and continually work to maintain it (5). If we are “godly,” then recognizing that order and doing our own part to maintain it (through our devotion, through the way we move in the world, through piety, through cultivating formation of our spirits, through cultivating virtue congruent with how our Gods would have us move in the world) is part of that too.
To hallow then, means to restore a person, place, or thing to a state of holiness, i.e. to drive out any pollution and restore the ontological integrity of the person/place/thing vis-à-vis the unfolding of that divinely crafted architecture. With these specific praise names for Thor, (Vèurr and Víurðr), what is this work of hallowing? It is the work of rendering something congruent with that original, primordial order that our creator Gods established, bringing it into the attention of a God, and determining its proper place (6). I think this ties in, partly, to all the stories we have of Thor fighting forces of chaos, or various Jötnar because this highlights that it’s not always engaging with something because it is malignant or evil – I don’t believe the Jötnar are evil – but rather preventing disruption of divine order. Thor restores that order by restoring the proper place of things. He rebalances. Of course with what is malignant or evil, well, then He may choose to eradicate and cleanse, rendering holiness by removing its opposite (7).
I think it’s worth asking too when He is hailed as “Guardian of the shrine,” what does that specifically entail? What is a shrine and what happens there? It is the heart of community or personal worship. A shrine is a doorway for the Gods, a place to honor Them, a place to experience Them. It is a seat of honor, property, real-estate belonging to the God or Gods in question for Whom the shrine has been made. It is a visual representation not only of devotion and veneration but also of liturgy and tradition, especially tradition. Just as one consciously aligns oneself with divine order to become holy (deepening that ever as we are able), so too a shrine makes that statement externally, visually. It becomes a place of full sensory experience of that from which holiness comes: i.e. the Reginn (8). It becomes a mediator for our experience and for the history, the present experience, and the future of our traditions, particularly the individual cultic traditions of a particular God or Goddess. Thor preserves that. This tells us that these things are crucial and worth preserving.
I’m sure I’ll have more to say about Thor in the future but in the meantime, here are two briefer pieces that I’ve written over the last couple of years on this wondrous God. You can read those here and here. They mostly discuss the meaning behind His most well-known attribute: Mjölnir.
- See entry for ‘holy’ here https://www.etymonline.com/word/holy
- See p. 92 and the definition of heilagr in A Glossary to the Poetic Edda (translated from Hans Kuhn’s Kurzes Worterburch by students at the University of Victoria), 1987. Personally, I think that a difference could and maybe even should be parsed out between ‘holy’ and ‘sacred,’ but that is a bit beyond the scope of this post.
- We could, of course, argue that this would include being properly ordered ethically and morally in a way that articulates and advances the divine order and architecture that the Gods have set into motion, in addition of course to physical and perhaps even cognitive integrity.
- See footnote 1.
- Hence Odin’s constant search for knowledge, or Thor and Loki’s various journeys throughout the worlds. Hence, Their engagement with us via the conduit of ongoing devotion. By engaging with us, They are engaging with the world, and that engagement presupposes to my mind, the obligation for us to reflect in our own lives, work, interiority of faith, and exteriority of praxis, what the Gods Themselves give, reveal, and pour forth into our world through our cognition of and veneration of Them and moreover, how we can assist in Their project.
- Of course, when we are talking about sacred things or holy things, there is also an element of imbuing spaces, places, people, and things with the positive contagion of divine awareness…though as I write this, more and more, I think making something holy is really about restoring its full place in the divine architecture, waking it up to its place and everything that naturally flows from that. It’s a shift in awareness, and in the construction of being.
- Part of this process is also making a person, place, or thing inhospitable to the unholy, the malignant, the wicked. What is imbued with the force of a God, what is in proper ordered alignment with the divine architecture is not a place where evil can be present. That is not to say it will not try to find purchase, or to induce us to move out of that holy alignment. I think evil in whatever capacity it presents itself will do all those things and more. Here’s the thing though, and it’s a crucial thing. As John Cassian said in his Conferences, particularly in Conference VII, evil spirits, wicked spirits, and other malignant things have only the access we give them. The necessary component to devotional integrity is learning how to avoid providing that access.
- Reginn is an Old Norse term for Holy Powers.